Saturday, May 15, 2010

Al Nakba

Today is the anniversary of Al Nakba, which means the catastrophe. On May 15, 1948, the Zionist settler state of Israel was officially established based on the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians from their native land. Today, at the absolute least, let everyone who cares for human justice renew their commitment to the struggle to free Palestine and win the right to return for the refugees and their descendants.

It's coincidental that my most recent attempts to wrestle with questions about fiction's role in the class struggle were prompted by reading Ghassan Kanafani's book Palestine's Children, especially the long story "Returning to Haifa." I have two other books related to this issue near the top of my to-read piles and I'm interested to see how they'll affect my ongoing effort to address these questions.

One is hot off the press, and it's nonfiction so strictly speaking doesn't fit the ticket, but it might still be worth folding into this discussion if it turns out to be all it might be. That's a big if. The book is Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation. The big question is which Israeli occupation the title refers to. Is it only the post-1967 occupation, the one that even many liberal Zionists oppose often for the purely pragmatic reason that the 1967 expansion and all it has wrought have turned out to undermine the security of the Israeli state? Or is it the actual entire occupation, the 1948 imposition of the supposed Jewish state on the expropriated land of the Palestinian nation? If the former, the collection will fall short even if it includes well-meaning humane commentary. If the latter, well then we'll have a worthwhile document in our hands.

The other book I hope to get to is the novel Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury. First published in Lebanon in 1998 and finally published in English translation in this country in 2006, Gate of the Sun has been hailed as a masterpiece, the great fictional treatment to date of the tragedy of the Nakba.

On this matter of the uses of literature, I must keep sounding the reminder that reading can never substitute for life. As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, nothing can compare, for example, to the experience of being on strike for raising class consciousness. The issue of Palestine, however, poses a challenge, since most people in this country other than Palestinian-Americans and other Arab-Americans don't have any direct engagement with it. Well, they are linked to it closely in many ways--U.S. tax dollars propping up Israel, U.S. military funding to kill Palestinians, all of it to maintain an imperialist-allied outpost on behalf of Big Oil--but in their day to day lives most people in the U.S. have no direct knowledge or experience of it. All most people here know is what they read or see on TV and almost everything they read or see on TV is pro-Zionist. So it seems that there may be a uniquely important job for fiction on this topic.

To be, as always, continued.